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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name T.R. v. South Carolina Department of Corrections PC-SC-0006
Docket / Court 2005-CP-40-02925 ( State Court )
State/Territory South Carolina
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Case Summary
On June 10, 2005, inmates suffering from serious mental illness filed this class action lawsuit in the Fifth Circuit Court of South Carolina, a state trial court, against the South Carolina Department of Corrections. The suit alleged that the defendant violated the South Carolina Constitution's ban ... read more >
On June 10, 2005, inmates suffering from serious mental illness filed this class action lawsuit in the Fifth Circuit Court of South Carolina, a state trial court, against the South Carolina Department of Corrections. The suit alleged that the defendant violated the South Carolina Constitution's ban on "cruel," "corporal" and "unusual punishment" (Art. I § 15) as well as its duty under the South Carolina Constitution to provide basic care for prisoners (Art. XII § 2, a claim that was eventually dropped). The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief.

Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant failed to properly treat the plaintiffs' mental illnesses by refusing to transfer them to facilities equipped to treat them, only sporadically giving them needed antipsychotic medication, and excessively using solitary confinement. The plaintiffs said that the lack of antipsychotics led patients to horde the medications and increased the risk of suicide and overdose; the plaintiffs also alleged that the defendant’s use of solitary confinement interfered with treatments for mental illnesses.

On November 1, 2007, the Circuit Court (Judge J. Michael Baxley), among other things, certified the case as a class action with the class defined as:
[A]ll individuals who, at any time since June 20, 2005 (the date that Plaintiffs filed their Complaint), have been or will be confined in an institution or facility maintained or operated by the South Carolina Department of Corrections and who, at any time since June 20, 2005, have been or will be: 1) Assigned to an SCDC Intermediate Care Services (“ICS”) unit; or 2) Hospitalized as an inpatient at Gilliam Psychiatric Hospital (“GPH”) or Columbia Care Center (“CCC”); or 3) Diagnosed by a psychiatrist with any of the following mental illnesses: a) Cognitive disorders (e.g., traumatic brain injuries, Cognitive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified); b) Schizophrenia (all subtypes); c) Schizoaffective Disorder (all subtypes); d) Paranoid Disorder (e.g., Delusional Disorders); e) Major Depressive Disorder (all subtypes); f) Bipolar Disorder (all subtypes); g) Other Psychotic Disorders (e.g., Schizophreniform, Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified); or 4) Diagnosed by a psychiatrist with another mental disorder, not listed above, that has resulted in a significant functional impairment, defined as: a) the inability to attend to and effectively perform the usual or necessary activities of daily living; b) an extreme impairment of coping skills, rendering the patient exceptionally vulnerable to unintentional or intentional victimization and possible mismanagement; or c) behaviors that are bizarre and/or dangerous to self or others.
The Court noted that the class definition tracked others approved in Alexander S. v. McLawhorn and Disability Advocates, Inc. v. New York State Office of Mental Health.

On September 29, 2010, Judge Baxley ruled on the standards that would govern the case. The Court ruled that the standards of Article I, Section 15 of the South Carolina Constitution would be construed consistently with the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments"). The Court held plaintiffs must prove that there is a substantial risk of serious harm and the objective nature of that risk may be proved by deficiencies in the system of administration of the Department of Corrections. To determine if the defendant's system is sufficient the Court considered the following six factors drawn from federal case law:
1. a systematic program for screening and evaluating inmates to identify those in need of mental health care;
2. a treatment program that involves more than segregation and close supervision of mentally ill inmates;
3. employment of a sufficient number of trained mental health professionals;
4. maintenance of accurate, complete, and confidential mental health treatment records;
5. administration of psychotropic medication only with appropriate supervision and periodic evaluation; and
6. a basic program to identify, treat, and supervise inmates at risk for suicide.
The order also explained that Article XII, Section 2 of the South Carolina constitution, which requires the General Assembly to “provide for the . . . health . . . of the inmates,” imposes a duty on the defendants to provide “minimally adequate” mental health services. And, despite noting that “cruel and unusual” and “minimally adequate” are “fundamentally different” concepts, the Court said it “intends generally to rely” on the same six factors to assess the plaintiffs’ Article I and Article XII claims.

The case proceeded to trial over the next four years, during which time the plaintiffs filed several amended complaints. For reasons unknown to the Clearinghouse, the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amended Complaint, filed June 7, 2011, dropped allegations that the defendants failed to provide minimally adequate health services under Article XII; it retained only the plaintiffs' Article I claims for cruel, corporal, and unusual punishment.

On January 8, 2014, Judge Baxley ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Judge Baxley observed that “[t]his case, far above all others, is the most troubling” of “over 70,000 cases of every imaginable sort” heard in state courts over the previous fourteen years. The Court also criticized the defendants’ decision to “[fight] this case tooth and nail” over eight years rather than “accept the obvious” and “try to improve its mental health system.”

Specifically, the Court found that: [1] the mental health care services were "severely" understaffed and many were unqualified resulting in inadequate screening and delays in care, [2] the plaintiff class was exposed to disproportionate use of force and segregation without approval by psychiatrists through the use of solitary confinement that had caused several deaths, [3] the defendant did not have a complete process for tracking the treatment of mental ill inmates, [4] the defendant's mental health screening process neither identified all mentally ill inmates nor provided treatment for those who were identified, [5] the defendant's administration of psychotropic drugs was inadequately administered and evaluated, and [6] the defendant's crisis prevention system was inadequate and had resulted in the suicide of several prisoners.

To address these problems, the Court ordered the defendant to create a plan to improve mental health care. The Court directed the defendant to (1) develop an effective screening system; (2) develop a comprehensive treatment program that would not rely on segregation; (3) increase the number of mental health professionals; (4) maintain accurate records; (5) supervise and evaluate the use of psychotropic medicine; and (6) identify and treat individuals at risk of suicide.

The defendant filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment on the grounds that the court’s January 8, 2014 decision did not address several of its arguments, including that the plaintiffs lacked standing and did not enjoy a private right of action. Judge Baxley rejected the defendant’s arguments in an April 18 order. The defendant appealed “all pre-trial, trial, and post-trial bench rulings” along with twenty-four specific trial court orders on May 22.

Around the same time, the parties entered mediation, and the appeal was soon stayed. In July, the defendants opened the Self-Injurious Behavioral Unit at the Kirkland Correctional Institution in Columbia. The unit was designed to facilitate faster responses to inmates who feel the need to harm themselves.

On January 15, 2015, following months of mediation, the parties announced that they had agreed to terms for a preliminary remedial plan. Specifically, the plan would phase in $8.7 million in funding over three years (pending legislative approval); called for "significant" modifications to defendants' security policies and procedures; and required the development of an improved staff training curriculum and a more appropriate staff culture.

The parties signed a formal settlement agreement on May 2, 2016. The settlement bound the defendant to comply with hiring, construction, and recordkeeping plans as well as modify its own policies. In addition, the settlement established a panel to supervise the defendant’s implementation of the changes. The settlement was set to terminate once the mediator determined the defendant had substantially complied with the agreement’s terms for eighteen consecutive months, although the defendant agreed to preserve certain policies for two years after termination. The parties appear to have predicted that the agreement would last about four years because they set an “Implementation Target Date” four years in the future.

The parties jointly moved on June 1, 2016, for the approval of the settlement agreement from the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Supreme Court remanded the request to the Circuit Court (Judge Robert E. Hood) for evaluation. Judge Hood found that class members received adequate notice and approved the settlement agreement on September 29, 2016. On December 14, 2016, the Supreme Court granted a motion to vacate the 2014 ruling because the parties had settled.

There have been no further orders from the court since the settlement was signed, possibly because the parties agreed to resolve certain disputes involving the settlement in arbitration. However, one pro se prisoner has filed numerous objections to the settlement and made additional allegations of poor treatment since the settlement went into effect, continuing throughout 2019. Thus, the case appears to be ongoing.

Brian Kempfer - 02/14/2014
Dan Whitman - 04/04/2015
Averyn Lee - 06/10/2019
Timothy Leake - 01/08/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Discrimination Prohibition
Monitor/Master
Monitoring
Reasonable Accommodation
Recordkeeping
Required disclosure
Training
Defendant-type
Corrections
Disability
Mental impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Bathing and hygiene
Bathrooms
Buildings
Classification / placement
Commitment procedure
Conditions of confinement
Confidentiality
Confinement/isolation
Counseling
Discharge & termination plans
Disciplinary procedures
Disciplinary segregation
Disparate Impact
Disparate Treatment
Excessive force
Failure to supervise
Failure to train
Improper treatment of mentally ill suspects
Protective custody
Record-keeping
Recreation / Exercise
Rehabilitation
Restraints : physical
Sanitation / living conditions
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Suicide prevention
Medical/Mental Health
Intellectual disability/mental illness dual diagnosis
Intellectual/Developmental Disability
Mental health care, general
Mental health care, unspecified
Self-injurious behaviors
Suicide prevention
Mental Disability
Brain injury
Depression
Intellectual/developmental disability, unspecified
Mental Illness, Unspecified
Schizophrenia
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) South Carolina Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description Mentally ill prisoners in the South Carolina Department of Corrections
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2016 - n/a
Filed 06/10/2005
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Agency Accountability Report - Fiscal Year 2017-2018
Date: Sep. 21, 2018
By: Stirling, Bryan P., Director (South Carolina Department of Corrections)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Website provides information about S.C. class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners with mental illness.
http://www.mentalhealth4inmates.org/
Date: 11/04/2016
By: Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities (SC)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
State Trial Court 2005-CP-40-02925
PC-SC-0006-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/17/2020
Source: State Court Website
General Documents
State Trial Court
Summons and Complaint
PC-SC-0006-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/20/2005
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
Order
PC-SC-0006-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 11/02/2007
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
State Trial Court
Order Setting Forth Applicable Constitutional Standards
PC-SC-0006-0003.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 09/29/2010
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
not recorded
Combined Site Visit Reports
PC-SC-0006-0005.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 12/30/2010
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
not recorded
Untitled
PC-SC-0006-0004.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 03/11/2011
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
State Trial Court
Fifth Amended Complaint
PC-SC-0006-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 10/06/2011
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
State Trial Court
Order Granting Judgment in Favor of Plaintiffs
PC-SC-0006-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/08/2014
Source: Papers of Margo Schlanger
State Trial Court
Order Denying Defendants' Motion to Alter or Amend
PC-SC-0006-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/07/2014
Source: State Court Website
not recorded
Term Sheet for Settlement Agreement
PC-SC-0006-0007.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 01/12/2015
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
State Trial Court
SCDC, Mental Health Advocates Reach Historic Agreement
PC-SC-0006-0014.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/01/2016
State Trial Court
Settlement Agreement
PC-SC-0006-0015.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/31/2016
State Trial Court
South Carolina Department of Corrections Policy HS-19.07
PC-SC-0006-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/01/2016
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
South Carolina Department of Corrections HS-19.08
PC-SC-0006-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/01/2016
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
SCDC Inmate Health Records General Guidelines
PC-SC-0006-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/01/2016
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
Gilliam Psychiatric Hospital (GPH)
PC-SC-0006-0013.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/01/2016
Source: State Court Website
show all people docs
Judges Baxley, J. Michael (State Trial Court) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-0002 | PC-SC-0006-0003 | PC-SC-0006-0006 | PC-SC-0006-0009 | PC-SC-0006-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Andrews, Stuart M Jr, (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-0001 | PC-SC-0006-0008 | PC-SC-0006-9000
Patterson, Jeffrey S. (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-0008
Strickland, Angela Gilbert (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-9000
Westbrook, Daniel J (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-0001 | PC-SC-0006-0008 | PC-SC-0006-9000
White, Ashley K. (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Davidson, William Henry II (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-9000
Lindemann, Andrew F. (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-9000
Plyler, Daniel Clifton (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-9000
Shelton, Haile W. (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-9000
Smith, James Emory Jr. (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-9000
Stepp, Robert Erving (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-9000
Woodington, Kenneth P. (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-SC-0006-9000

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